The model and actor was discovered via social media

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Credit: Yu Tsai

When Nyle DiMarco graduated from college, he moved to Florida with a plan of becoming a teacher.

Having graduated from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. (the United States’ only Deaf university), with a degree in mathematics, math was to be the deaf Dancing with the Stars front-runner’s subject of choice.

“I grew up with deaf teachers, and I thought all deaf children should have exposure to deaf educators,” DiMarco, 26, says in the current issue of PEOPLE.

But before DiMarco could get in front of a chalkboard, Hollywood came calling – or direct-messaging, rather.

“They found me through social media,” DiMarco says of being approached in 2014 by the team behind the Freeform drama Switched at Birth.

For more from Nyle DiMarco – including how he traveled the world without an interpreter – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

DiMarco had already landed an acting role in the 2013 independent film In the Can – which was told in American Sign Language with English subtitles – but Switched at Birth gave him an opportunity to play a deaf role on a bigger stage.

“A lot of people in Hollywood cast hearing people in deaf roles and we [in the Deaf community] are like, ‘What do you mean?’ They don’t know what it’s like to be deaf, and they never act it well,” he says. “They give a negative perspective of what it means to be deaf.”

In 2015 America’s Next Top Model producers happened across DiMarco’s Instagram account and invited him to audition for the reality modeling competition without realizing he was deaf.

“I started to realize that there are a lot of people who are unaware of Deaf culture, and I’ve been given a great platform to reframe the Deaf community,” DiMarco says of the reaction after won the CW reality show’s 22nd cycle. “I want to use my celebrity for good.”

Now, as he continues to vie for the Mirrorball trophy on DWTS, DiMarco is working hard to help deaf youth through the Nyle DiMarco Foundation.

“Right after college I was trying to figure out what to do. Teach? Act? Model? Do PR for the Deaf community?” he says. “And now I’m doing all I dreamed of and more.”

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.